Farro Salad

It might seem strange to dive into a salad for breakfast, but with farro grains (an ancient variety of wheat), crisp apples, and dried cranberries, this dish will give you the energy you need to power through the rest of your day.


  • 1 cup farro or wheat berries
  • 2 cups water
  • kosher salt
  • 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • black pepper
  • 1–2 crisp apples, Gala or Fuji
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup spiced pecans


  1. Wash the farro or wheat berries in a sieve before adding to a 4–6-quart pot with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stir, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered until water is absorbed and the farro is swollen and tender, 45–50 minutes. Remove from heat, and spread onto a sheet pan to cool.
  2. Cut and squeeze the lemon into a small bowl, removing any seeds. Slowly whisk in the vegetable oil until you’ve got a viscous and balanced dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Wash and dice the apple.
  4. Wash and trim the kale, cutting out the thick parts of the spine. Stack the leaves on top of one another, and cut into thin ribbons (you’ll be eating them raw, so you want to cut them into pieces you’d be happy eating).
  5. In a large bowl, combine the cooled farro, the kale, the diced apple, and the cranberries. Stir well to combine, and add dressing so that it’s well distributed through the salad. Finally, add the pecans, and stir to mix in well. Taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and serve.

4 Drawbacks of Home Equity Loans

Taking out a home equity loan against the value of your property can backfire if you fail to avoid these common pitfalls in the borrowing process.

When you need a quick source of funds, a home equity loan can be tempting. Done wisely, you can use the lower-interest debt secured by your house to pay off debts with high interest rates, like credit cards. It’s also a good choice if you know exactly how much you need to borrow for a big expenditure like a new kitchen.

Home equity loans aren’t always the best choice for accessing cash. The best use for home equity is to buy things that will contribute to your home’s value, like a needed remodel, or your family’s future income, like a college education. Consider carefully before you cash in home equity to spend on consumer goods like clothing, furniture, or vacations.

The fact that you’re staking your home against your ability to pay off the debt is just the beginning of the potential drawbacks.

Drawback #1: Money Doesn’t Come Cheap

A home equity loan is a second mortgage on your house. Interest rates are usually much lower for a home equity loan than for unsecured debt like personal loans and credit cards. But transaction and closing costs, similar to those for primary mortgages, make home equity loans a pricey — and imprudent — way to finance something you may want but don’t absolutely need, like a fur coat, exotic vacation, or Ferrari.

The average closing costs on a $200,000 mortgage are $4,070. To compare offers on competing home equity loans, use a calculator that compares fees, interest rates, and how long you’ll take to pay back the loan. Ask your current mortgage lender if it offers any discounts if you get a second mortgage from the same company.

Drawback #2: Early Payoff Can Be Costly

Home equity loans almost always have fixed interest rates, so you know your monthly payment won’t rise. Do check to see if there’s a pre-payment penalty — a fee the lender will charge if you pay back the loan early because you sell your house, or you just want to get rid of the monthly payment.

Such early-termination fees are typically a percentage of the outstanding balance, such as 2%, or a certain number of months’ worth of interest, such as six months. They’re triggered if you pay off part or all of a loan within a certain time frame, typically three years. Despite the penalty, it may be worthwhile to refinance if you can lower interest rates sufficiently.

If you want to be able to borrow money periodically, it may make sense to go for a home equity line of credit instead of a lump-sum second mortgage. Although more lenders are charging stiff prepayment penalties for HELOCs too, these are triggered when the line is closed within a certain period, such as three years, not when the balance is paid off. Bear in mind that interest rates on most HELOCs are variable.

The big advantage to a credit line is that you can borrow whatever amount you need as you need money. The big drawback is that the lender can shut off the line of credit if the value of your home falls, your credit goes south, or just because it no longer wants to offer you credit.

Drawback #3: Beware Predatory Lenders

Some lenders don’t act in your best interest. Theoretically, lenders are supposed to follow underwriting guidelines on appropriate debt and income levels to keep you from spending more than you can afford on a loan. But in practice, some unscrupulous lenders bend or ignore these rules.

Always shop for the best deal, rather than accepting the recommendation of a home-improvement contractor. Some will try to pressure you into taking their loans at above-market rates — and jack up the price if you don’t. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, you should avoid anyone who insists on only working with one lender or who encourages you to do things like overstate your income.

Drawback #4: Your House Is at Stake

A home equity loan is a lien on your house that usually takes second place to the primary mortgage. As such, home equity lenders can be left with nothing if a house sells for less than what’s owed on the first mortgage. To recoup losses, second-mortgage lenders will sometimes refuse to sign off on short sales unless they’re paid all or part of what they’re owed.

Moreover, even though the lender loses its secured interest in the house should it go to foreclosure, in some states, it can send debt collectors after you for the balance, and report the loss to credit agencies. This black mark on your credit score can hurt your ability to borrow for years to come.

There are benefits to home equity loans. Often you can write off the interest you pay on the loan. Consult a tax adviser to see if that’s the case for you. And the rates can be lower than what you’d pay for an unsecured, personal loan or if you used a credit card to make your purchase.


Concrete Painting Basics

Painting concrete surfaces requires more skill, tools, and time than throwing a coat on drywall. Here’s how to do it right.

Concrete painting is trickier than painting most surfaces: It breathes, transports moisture, and sucks up paint.

While you can paint drywall in a day or two, you’ll need a week or more to finish painting concrete. Continue reading below for tips — plus costs — on how to paint concrete surfaces:

1. Clean the Concrete

Cleaning concrete is a vital first step because the porous surface tends to trap dirt, grease, and oil.

1. Remove dirt and grease with trisodium phosphate ($6.30 per quart concentrate), or choose a more Earth-friendly cleaner like Krud Kutter’s pre-paint cleaner ($10 for 32 ounces).

2. Yank off vines and moss growing on the foundation. Use a pressure washer to finish off remaining roots and dirt.

3. Remove efflorescence, a white powder that forms on moist concrete. Try Krud Kutter Concrete Clean & Etch ($8.50 for 32 ounces); if you need more cleaning muscle, try phosphoric acid masonry cleaner ($27 per gallon).

2. Strip Old Paint

Strip peeling or blistering paint indoors with a wire brush ($3 to $5), a paint scraper ($10 to $20), and lots of elbow grease.

Outdoors, get rid of old paint with a power washer (rents for $40 to $75 per day).

3. Seal Interior Concrete

Water moves easily through porous concrete, so sealing interior walls is necessary to prevent moisture from seeping in, promoting mold growth and that cold, damp basement feel. Use a masonry sealer, such as ThoroSeal, that also patches cracks ($35 for a 50-pound bag).

Carefully follow directions for mixing, applying, and curing the sealer. ThoroSeal, for example, requires two coats; the manufacturer recommends curing for five to seven days before applying the second coat.

4. Prime the Concrete

Concrete primer, called block primer, fills pores and evens out the surface. For exterior foundations and walls, use exterior-grade block filler, such as Behr’s Concrete and Masonry Bonding Primer, which also is good for interior concrete ($17.98 per gallon). Primer dries in two hours; wait at least eight hours, but no more than 30 days, to paint.

5. Paint the Concrete

Masonry paint (also called elastomeric paint or elastomeric wall coating) is a good choice for concrete painting because it contains binders that contract and expand with the concrete. Exterior house paint can crack and peel on concrete.

Masonry paint ($20 per gallon) can be tinted and is much thicker than exterior paint. Apply it with a masonry brush ($5 to $8), a high-capacity (3/4-inch or higher) roller, or a texture roller ($5.50).

Some masonry paint is thicker than exterior paint and contains fine particles that can clog air sprayers. If you want to spray-paint cement, ask your local paint store for a product that will work well in a sprayer ($300).

No matter how you apply paint, let it dry for a day between coats. You’ll probably need two to three coats, so check the long-range weather forecast before you begin.

Article by Pat Curry

Remodel vs. Renovation: What’s the Difference?

You say potato, I say potahto. Remodel vs. renovation … same thing, right? While the terms remodel and renovation are used interchangeably all the time, they are actually very different animals. So exactly what is the difference between a remodel and a renovation?

The key difference is how deep the changes go. A renovation means you’re updating an existing structure with cosmetic changes, whereas a remodel involves changing the structure through demolition and construction, explains Jason Larson, founder and president of Lars Remodeling & Design in San Diego, CA.

So, a renovation of a bathroom, for example, might involve refreshing the tile and paint, possibly even removing and replacing the existing sink, toilet, and shower, but keeping the plumbing and electrical systems in their original locations, explains Larry Greene of Case Design/Remodeling of Indianapolis. By contrast, the same project would qualify as a remodel if you, say, moved the pipes to make room for a washer/dryer combo.

If your house feels a little dated, a renovation can add a fresh look, Greene says. But a remodel is better if you need to update your home’s functionality by, say, knocking down a wall to create more space in the kitchen or putting up a wall to create a nursery.

Who ya gonna call?

A homeowner can hire an experienced handyman or home repair expert for most renovations, says Greene. Remodeling projects, on the other hand, are often significantly more complex and require more specialized expertise.

“Home additions, converting to an open floor plan, changing the configuration of a kitchen or bathroom, or digging out a basement are all extensive projects that are best left to an experienced design-build remodeling company,” he says. In addition to the general contractor, you should also have access to an architect or building engineer to ensure that the project is structurally sound.

Remodel vs. renovation: What’s the difference in cost?

In general, renovations are the cheaper route, because you’re only altering surface details. “Most minor cosmetic work for a renovation can be done quickly and on a budget,” says Betsy Bingle, associate broker at LintonBingle in Jackson Hole, WY. Renovations also typically entail fewer surprises, since the materials and labor costs are much easier to estimate, given the limited parameters of the project.

The bigger changes of a remodel, on the other hand, tend to be more expensive—plus, you may also need to obtain permits, which can run you between $500 to $1,000 and much more, depending on the extent of the project. Also know that when getting a bid for a remodel from contractors, you should also make sure to factor in items like appliances, flooring, and paint, which many contractors leave out as they focus on the structural elements, says Larson. He recommends padding your remodeling budget by 7% to 10% to be on the safe side.

You may also want to factor in a project’s return on investment—or how much money you’ll recoup whenever you decide to sell your home. This chart can help ballpark your cost vs. value.

Cathie Ericson is a journalist who writes about real estate, finance, and health.


For the adventurous eater, this recipe has it all: a subtle, exotic flavor; heat that can be adjusted to preference; and a delicious, sweet flavor that brings out the best in Indian-style cooking. This Coconut Curry Chicken requires a bit of preparation ahead of time, but the result is well worth the wait. This is a great dish to spend a few minutes preparing in the morning – when you are ready, the actual cooking comes together very quickly.

Coconut milk provides a base for this dish that is filled with easily digestible, healthy fats. Even if you don’t care for the taste of coconut, the use of this ingredient combined with the other spices gives this dish a sweet-heat that isn’t overpowered by the coconut. However, if your preference is to avoid this ingredient, you can consider swapping with almond milk (however, this will add a noticeably nuttier flavor). For a milder dish, cut the red chili flakes by half (or omit altogether); for a spicier meal, it can be doubled. Boneless, skinless chicken breast serves as an excellent source of protein in this dish, but if you are looking for a more budget-friendly option, consider swapping this protein for a less expensive chicken cut as needed.

This recipe is wonderful as a dinner – for a complete meal, consider serving the chicken atop a light side like this simple Vegetable Curry; this will add some great texture to your meal. To create some additional flavor variety, add a tangy side like this Raw Kale Salad to accompany your plate.

Coconut Curry Chicken Recipe

Serves: 4  Prep: 10 min. + 2 h.   Cook: 20 min
Protein: 29g   Carbs: 9g   Fat: 28g


  • 2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, sliced
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced;
  • 2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced;
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced;
  • 1 tsp. red chili flakes;
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin;
  • 1 tsp. garam masala;
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice;
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil;
  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk;
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced;
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper;


  1. In a bowl, combine coconut milk, ginger, garlic, chili, cumin, garam masala, lemon juice, half the olive oil, and season to taste.
  2. Add the chicken to the marinade; place in the refrigerator and marinate for 2 to 12 hours.
  3. Heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and reserve the marinade.
  5. Cook in the preheated skillet until chicken is browned on all sides.
  6. Add the onion and cook until soft (2 to 3 minutes); pour in the remaining marinade.
  7. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and onions are soft.
  8. Serve the coconut curry topped with green onions

How to Get a Mortgage After Foreclosure (Yes, It’s Possible)

If you’ve been through a foreclosure, you’ve crawled through one of the worst real estate ordeals there is. But that experience doesn’t mean homeownership has to remain forever out of reach afterward.

In fact, it’s much easier to qualify for a mortgage after a major credit event than you may think. It all depends on the circumstances of your foreclosure—and how you’ve managed your credit since.

So if you want to get back out there, here’s how to get a mortgage after foreclosure.

How long after foreclosure can I apply for a loan?

When it comes to the necessary waiting period between going through a foreclosure and applying for a new loan, every mortgage program is a bit different. But there are some general rules.

“For a conventional mortgage, a borrower who experienced foreclosure is required to wait seven years,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional sales manager at TD Bank.

On the other hand, the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture require a three-year waiting period while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requires a two-year wait.

How to speed up the process

You can reduce the waiting period for landing a new mortgage by showing that the foreclosure was the result of a significant financial hardship from which you have recovered.

So what’s considered significant? “I live to shop” definitely doesn’t count; legitimate reasons include a layoff, business failure, divorce, or major health problems.

Be prepared to provide documentation of the hardship you claim, such as proof of paid medical bills.

“You’ll need to provide an explanation letter, which should be short and focus on recovery from the event, rather than excuses for it,” says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.”

Her sample sentence: “After my business failed, I landed a W-2 job with an excellent company doing the same thing I did before, but with a guaranteed salary and full benefits package.”

Just keep in mind that “there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to lenders dealing with this situation,” says Rodriguez. Every lender has different requirements aside from basic guidelines set down by the FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

The FHA, for instance, is particular about what constitutes a significant financial hardship, says Fleming. A serious illness or the death of a wage earner may be acceptable, whereas divorce may not be. (You might have been able to work through a divorce, but not through illness or a death.)

How to rebuild your credit

For a potential borrower, a major component of landing a new mortgage is demonstrating that you have bounced back from the financial hardship that caused you to default in the past. Job one of proving that is rebuilding your credit and keeping it sparkling clean.

To boost your credit score—lenders typically like to see a score of at least 580—pay bills on time and maintain low balances on credit cards.

“Consumers should also frequently check their credit reports to ensure there are no inaccuracies that could negatively affect their chances of qualifying for a loan,” say Rodriguez.

Keep a paperwork file

Be prepared to document everything finance-related in your postforeclosure life, advises Rodriguez. That includes pay stubs, bank and brokerage statements, and tax returns. Lenders will ask for this paperwork to verify everything you put on your mortgage application as a precaution to avoid another potential foreclosure.

And save your pennies! Unless you’re using VA financing, you will probably need a larger down payment to secure a mortgage than you may have put down last time.

“Figure 10% minimum,” says Fleming. There may be exceptions, but they are rare.

What about nonprime lenders?

You can land a new loan immediately after completion of the foreclosure in most cases. But beware: It’s expensive, the fees and interest rate are higher, and usually the terms aren’t great, Fleming says. For instance, rather than a 30-year fixed loan, you may be offered only an adjustable-rate mortgage with a high margin.

How a mortgage adviser can help

Meet with an experienced mortgage adviser soon after your foreclosure so that you can begin to work on any other long-term issues that need to be addressed and fixed.

“The three legs of the qualifying stool are income, credit, and assets,” says Fleming. If one or two are weak, you’ll pay more for a loan or may not qualify. The best corrective action for a prospective home buyer depends on what leg is weakest.

Once you’ve worked on getting your credit score over a particular threshold, you may need to conserve cash if your liquid reserves are too low, or pay down your credit cards if your debt-to-income ratio is too high.

Bottom line: Your past does not predict your future when it comes to financing—in fact, a bad experience can often scare people straight.

“Many folks have rough times in their financial life, and then are excellent credit risks afterward,” says Fleming. “If you can demonstrate a willingness and ability to make payments in the future, you can get a loan to buy a home.”

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.

The 5 Best Things to Do When You Move into Your New Home

Simple tasks for a healthier, safer, and more homey home.

Moving into your dream home can be a daunting task. Between unpacking, cleaning, and trying to find that stray roll of toilet paper, it may feel like you’ve lost your mind in a sea of Bubble Wrap.

That’s why I wanted to share with you five simple things that you should do during the first month in your new home. These may feel like back-burner tasks, but really, they’ll help you sleep better at night and make your new place feel less like a house and more like your home.

When we moved into our dream house, we were tired, overwhelmed, and couldn’t remember where we put the sippy cups for our 10-month-old son. Plus, we had no idea what to do first! Of course, we cleaned and unpacked, but what next?

This handful of to-dos walks you through each of those tasks and why you should tackle them first and foremost.

Let’s get to it!

#1 Lock It Up

Security is the No. 1 concern for most people in a new environment. You can easily switch out your locks and deadbolts to your new home to protect your valuables and your family.

Now’s the time to consider the lockset finish, and the options are endless. When it comes to exterior locks, make sure you choose something that looks timeless and can be cleaned easily.

A new security system is also a good idea. The options for this are endless as well. Systems with online monitoring, smartphone compatibility, thermostat control, and even video monitors for the interior including the baby nursery are super helpful. Even if that room is empty now, it might not be in the future – so go ahead and secure it!

#2 Remove Toilet Seats

Some folks may think it’s unnecessary to replace toilet seats, but my point here is to simply remove them. By removing your toilet seats, you can really deep clean under the bolts and hinges where the “yucks” like to hide. Your goal is to make sure your royal throne is YOU-worthy.

You can reinstall your existing seat or opt to shop for a new one. New versions with night-lights, padding, or even child-sized attachments are available. Either way, you’ll know your favorite seat in the house is ready for your entire family.

#3 Improve Your Home’s Air

Changing an air filter is a three-minute task, and it should be done right after moving into a new home – even if the previous owners swear the chore was just done. Changing out a filter can help improve the performance of your air conditioning and furnace and help with any allergens in the home.

This inexpensive fix can also save you money! The U.S. Department of Energy says that replacing your dirty air filter with a new one can lower your A/C’s energy consumption by 5 percent to 10 percent.

It’s a good idea to write the replacement date directly on the filter when you put it in so you can be sure you know how long it’s been since the last change.

Also, take the time to test and change out batteries in all your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. These are often tested during inspections, but the batteries can die and tampered-with units aren’t uncommon, especially if a house was left vacant.

#4  Paint Your Front Door

Painting your front door (or freshening it up with a coat of oil if it’s wood) can show your new neighbors that you’ve arrived on the block and are investing in your home. This simple task is so easy!

After you do proper prep work, which includes sanding the surface, make sure you pick an exterior-grade paint and use a high-quality bristle brush to give it multiple thin coats for the best coverage. It’s a great time to show off your personal style, and these days any color goes!

Every day you walk in through your newly made-over door, you’ll feel welcomed into your new home and inspired to keep creating a space you love.

#5 Choose Your Signature Scent

Every house has a smell. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that “other people smell” that’s definitely not your own particular brand of aroma. Even if the smell isn’t bad, it just isn’t yours, and that makes you feel like an intruder in someone else’s space. Make your dream home even more dreamy by filling it with your signature scent.

Don’t have a signature scent? Check out a candle store or the air-freshener aisle to peruse the options, and then regularly use your favorite in your new home. My favorite is a lemon-vanilla-rosemary mix that I let simmer all day on the stove; it fills every room of the house.

In homes that have particularly distressing “stanks,” try getting the carpets cleaned before moving in the furniture. It can eliminate the smell as well as remove allergens, dirt, and stains.

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Debunking Common Misconceptions About Pet Adoption

Millions of animals in the US are currently in shelters waiting for new homes. However, many people choose not to adopt because they are unsure of what to expect. With some basic knowledge about shelters, however, these common misconceptions can be cleared up. Here are the facts for some of the more prevalent concerns you may have about adopting a pet from a shelter.

MISCONCEPTION: “They won’t have the breed I’m looking for.”

FACT: An estimated 25 percent of dogs in shelters are purebred (humanesociety.org 2014). Also, there are many rescue groups that specialize in finding homes for specific breeds or types of pets.

MISCONCEPTION: “There must be something wrong with them.”

FACT: In reality, local animal shelters and rescue groups offer a variety of healthy, lovable pets who need a home for no other reason than because they are lost or their owners can no longer care for them. Many rescue groups screen pets for health and behavioral concerns, will make you aware of any extra needs, and provide training before you make the decision to adopt.

MISCONCEPTION: “Adopting only one animal doesn’t make much of a difference.”

FACT: When you adopt a pet, you’re not only changing the outcome of one pet’s life, but also opening a spot in that shelter for another animal to come along and get a better chance of finding a new home. And when you do adopt, you can make the choice to spay or neuter your animal to help prevent future animals from overcrowding shelters.

To help you take the next steps for determining if adopting a pet is for you, you can download this pet adoption checklist to get key questions to ask yourself before adopting, as well as a list of must-have items for cats and dog owners. If you’ve chosen to adopt, download these pet information sheets to track important information about your pet and these fun printables to make your own pet tags.


Master Closet: DIY vs Custom

Personalize your master closet with special storage features that you select and install, or hire a professional to do the work.

Every master closet — and probably every other closet you have — can use a facelift.

But deciding between a do-it-yourself closet system and hiring a professional to design and install your master closet storage isn’t only about budget. The time you have available, the desired appearance, special options, and quality all factor in your decision.

The DIY Option

At the low end of the price range are do-it-yourself master closet kits, made from melamine (laminate-surfaced fiberboard) or coated wire. Installation is fairly easy — you just screw the attachment brackets to the wall and attach the shelves and poles.

The hard part is planning the layout. You’ll need to measure your space, then choose modular components from the home center or at online sites like EasyClosets or The Container Store.

Easy DIY Design

A typical master closet is about 8-by-10 feet. Most closet modules are 1-3 feet wide and 7 feet tall, so you need to figure out the best combination of units to fill the wall. Check online sites for free tools that suggest the best combination of modules for your master closet dimensions and layout.

You’ll likely have four basic components to choose from: a shelf unit, a drawer unit, a unit with two closet poles — typically spaced about 42 inches apart — for hanging shirts and pants, and a unit consisting of a single closet pole for hanging dresses and long jackets.

Then add components that will accommodate your storage needs and fit in the space. For enough components to outfit an 8-by-10-foot master closet, expect to pay $800-$2,000.

Your Custom Master Closet

Hire a closet company, a contractor, or a kitchen and bath designer to outfit your custom master closet, and you’ll get a setup that uses every inch of space. Instead of fiberboard or coated wire, components will be made of high-density melamine or even solid wood.

You’ll also have a much wider range of storage options — jewelry drawers, tie and belt holders, shoe racks, hamper baskets — and accessories, like a fold-down ironing board, a lighted beauty/makeup station, or a full-length mirror that slides out from between the shelves and swivels open for use.

Plan to keep your master closet design flexible, so you (or a future owner) can change shelf and pole heights and compartment configurations as needs change.

The Cost of Custom

All those bells and whistles come with a big price tag, ranging from $3,000-$5,000 and up for a typical 8-by-10-foot custom master closet, installed. Luxury appointments can take the price to $10,000 and beyond. That’s a lot of money, but your deluxe closet is an upgrade you’ll use and love every day.



Barley, Corn, and Black Bean Burritos

Are you ready to lighten up the New Year? Slow cooker recipes are the ideal plan when it’s cold and dreary outside. They warm us from the inside and help keep us cozy when the days are short and the nights are long. You simply prep the ingredients in the morning, set them in your slow cooker, and let it do all the work.

Barley, Corn, and Black Bean Burritos

Serves: 8


  • ¾ c. whole-kernel corn
  • ¼ c. chopped red onions
  • 1 (10-oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (15-oz.) can lower-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. ground red pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 c. uncooked pearl barley
  • 2 c. fat-free, lower-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • ¼ c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 (8-inch) low-carb, whole-wheat flour tortillas
  • ¾ c. shredded fat-free cheddar cheese
  • 2 c. thinly sliced lettuce
  • ½ c. salsa
  • ½ c. light sour cream

Step 1: Combine ingredients.

In your 3-to-4-quart slow cooker, add the corn, red onions, and diced tomatoes. Rinse the black beans in a colander and add to the slow cooker. Next add the cumin, chili powder, red pepper, garlic and lime juice. Stir in your barley, then cover evenly with vegetable broth. With a spoon, mix all ingredients together thoroughly.

Step 2: Slow cook.

Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in ¼ cup of cilantro.

Step 3: Assemble the burritos.

Heat up each tortilla in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Using a tablespoon, spoon the mixture evenly down center of each tortilla, about 10 tablespoons each. Sprinkle each with 1½ tablespoons of cheese and ¼ cup of lettuce.

Fold each end just about 1-1½” over the point edge of the mixture. Then roll up the tortilla along the long edge. Plate and top each tortilla with 1 tablespoon of salsa and 1 tablespoon of sour cream.

Nutritional Information (Estimated):
Calories: 289 | Fat: 4g | Fiber: 20g | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 15g


Are You Getting the Home Tax Deductions You’re Entitled To?

Here are the tax tips you need to get a jump on your returns.

Owning a home can pay off at tax time.

Take advantage of these home ownership-related tax deductions and strategies to lower your tax bill:

Mortgage Interest Deduction

One of the neatest deductions itemizing homeowners can take advantage of is the mortgage interest deduction, which you claim on Schedule A. To get the mortgage interest deduction, your mortgage must be secured by your home — and your home can be a house, trailer, or boat, as long as you can sleep in it, cook in it, and it has a toilet.

Interest you pay on a mortgage of up to $1 million — or $500,000 if you’re married filing separately — is deductible when you use the loan to buy, build, or improve your home.

If you take on another mortgage (including a second mortgage, home equity loan, or home equity line of credit) to improve your home or to buy or build a second home, that counts towards the $1 million limit.

If you use loans secured by your home for other things — like sending your kid to college — you can still deduct the interest on loans up $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) because your home secures the loan.

Prepaid Interest Deduction

Prepaid interest (or points) you paid when you took out your mortgage is generally 100% deductible in the year you paid it along with other mortgage interest.

If you refinance your mortgage and use that money for home improvements, any points you pay are also deductible in the same year.

But if you refinance to get a better rate or shorten the length of your mortgage, or to use the money for something other than home improvements, such as college tuition, you’ll need to deduct the points over the life of your mortgage. Say you refi into a 10-year mortgage and pay $3,000 in points. You can deduct $300 per year for 10 years.

So what happens if you refi again down the road?

Example: Three years after your first refi, you refinance again. Using the $3,000 in points scenario above, you’ll have deducted $900 ($300 x 3 years) so far. That leaves $2,400, which you can deduct in full the year you complete your second refi. If you paid points for the new loan, the process starts again; you can deduct the points over the life of the loan.

Home mortgage interest and points are reported on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

Your lender will send you a Form 1098 that lists the points you paid. If not, you should be able to find the amount listed on the HUD-1 settlement sheet you got when you closed the purchase of your home or your refinance closing.

Property Tax Deduction

You can deduct on Schedule A the real estate property taxes you pay. If you have a mortgage with an escrow account, the amount of real estate property taxes you paid shows up on your annual escrow statement.

If you bought a house this year, check your HUD-1 settlement statement to see if you paid any property taxes when you closed the purchase of your house. Those taxes are deductible on Schedule A, too.

PMI and FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums

You can deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance (PMI) as mortgage interest on Schedule A if you itemize your return. The change only applies to loans taken out in 2007 or later.

What’s PMI? If you have a mortgage but didn’t put down a fairly good-sized down payment (usually 20%), the lender requires the mortgage be insured. The premium on that insurance can be deducted, so long as your income is less than $100,000 (or $50,000 for married filing separately).

If your adjusted gross income is more than $100,000, your deduction is reduced by 10% for each $1,000 ($500 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) that your adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return). So, if you make $110,000 or more, you can’t claim the deduction (10% x 10 = 100%).

Besides private mortgage insurance, there’s government insurance from FHA, VA, and the Rural Housing Service. Some of those premiums are paid at closing, and deducting them is complicated. A tax adviser or tax software program can help you calculate this deduction. Also, the rules vary between the agencies.

Vacation Home Tax Deductions

The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes are complicated. Do yourself a favor and keep good records about how and when you use your vacation home.

If you’re the only one using your vacation home (you don’t rent it out for more than 14 days a year), you deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A.

Rent your vacation home out for more than 14 days and use it yourself fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), and it’s treated like a rental property. Your expenses are deducted on Schedule E.

Rent your home for part of the year and use it yourself for more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days you rent it and you have to keep track of income, expenses, and allocate them based on how often you used and how often you rented the house.

Homebuyer Tax Credit

This isn’t a deduction, but it’s important to keep track of if you claimed it in 2008.

There were federal first-time homebuyer tax credits in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

If you claimed the homebuyer tax credit for a purchase made after April 8, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2009, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years, with no interest.

The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe each year until it’s paid off. Or if the home stops being your main home, you may need to add the remaining unpaid credit amount to your income tax on your next tax return.

Generally, you don’t have to pay back the credit if you bought your home in 2009, 2010, or early 2011. The exception: You have to repay the full credit amount if you sold your house or stopped using it as primary residence within 36 months of the purchase date. Then you must repay it with your tax return for the year the home stopped being your principal residence.

The repayment rules are less rigorous for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community workers who got sent on extended duty at least 50 miles from their principal residence.

Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

The Nonbusiness Energy Tax Credit lets you claim a credit for installing energy-efficient home systems. Tax credits are especially valuable because they let you offset what you owe the IRS dollar for dollar, in this case, for up to 10% of the amount you spent on certain upgrades.

The credit carries a lifetime cap of $500 (less for some products), so if you’ve used it in years past, you’ll have to subtract prior tax credits from that $500 limit. Lucky for you, there’s no cap on how much you’ll save on utility bills thanks to your energy-efficiency upgrades.

Among the upgrades that might qualify for the credit:

File IRS Form 5695 with your return.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction. Article by DONA DEZUBE

Avoid a Do-Over: Pick a Kitchen Paint You’ll Love

Here’s the scoop on what paint is best for your kitchen cabinets and walls.

Life is messy, and much of it happens in the kitchen. This is where you simmer your nana’s famous tomato sauce for hours, adorning your wall with red splatters. And after a cookie-making session with the kids, it’s where you scrub away sticky fingerprints from cabinet doors.

Your kitchen cabinets and walls take a lot of abuse. Choosing the right paintcan mean they’ll always look great, even after the umpteenth scrubbing. Choosing the wrong paint can mean the opposite — you could actually wash away the paint along with the grime.

Scott Specker, who owns Five Star Painting of Suwanee in Cumming, Ga., has seen his fair share of issues caused by the wrong paint. Picking a poor paint product, he says, can leave you with only two options: Paint or stain all over again, or deal with the ugly. Ugh.

Don’t force yourself into a re-do. Here’s how to make the right decision at the outset for a more functional kitchen.

Embrace the Sheen

You might love the pristine look of flat paint (and sure, it makes a gorgeous backdrop for your family room or bedroom). But when it comes time to coat your kitchen, select a finish that is both easy to clean and tough enough to handle repeated scrubbing. That means getting shiny.

High-gloss or semi-gloss paint is ideal for any spots that might get splattered, sprayed, or spilled on, like above (or in lieu of) your backsplash, behind your trash can, or everywhere if you love bringing spaghetti sauce to a rolling boil. Glossier finishes also protect your walls from water and grease, which will “bubble up and not absorb into the paint” upon contact, says Specker. “Wipe it off, and you won’t have any leftover stains.”

If you’re insistent on the flat look for your kitchen, there are specialty (read: pricey) paints out there that offer easy cleaning. Specker recommends Benjamin Moore’s Aura to give your kitchen walls that high-style matte finish — as long as you’re willing to spend $70 a gallon.

The Best Paint for Kitchen Cabinets

  • Choose a paint that hardens when it dries.
  • Oil paint is an affordable choice, but a major hassle.
  • There are water-based paint alternatives, but they are pricey.

“Because cabinets open and close, receiving a lot more traffic overall than a wall, you’ll want to use a paint that hardens,” Specker says.

Many pros recommend using an oil-based paint, which cures to a harder surface, preventing damage and mess. Buyer beware: Oils can be a wee smelly and do take forever to dry.

But once again, paint industry innovations provide a (spendy) alternative. Specker recommends either Benjamin Moore Advance, which costs about $50 per gallon, or Sherwin-Williams ProClassic for about $67 a gallon, which dry hard and durable without the smell and wait of oil-based paints.

Shine Those Baseboards

A glossy finish isn’t just for kitchen cabinets — it’s for your kitchen baseboards, too, says Specker.

Baseboards suffer a ton of damage, from muddy scuffs after your daughter’s soccer games to dirt, dust, and crumbs knocked off the countertops during cooking. Your kitchen already takes long enough to clean. Why add an extra half-hour hunched over the baseboards?

Don’t Forget the Ceiling

The one surface in the kitchen where you want to avoid glossy paint is the ceiling. Ceilings love to crack and settle, so cover up those inconsistencies with some (yes, now you have permission) flat paint. The less reflective the surface, the less obvious those cracks will look from the ground. Glossy paints will actually emphasize these errors and problem spots.

Flat finish bonus: Between their cracks and the fact that you’re working in the most awkward position ever, ceilings can be super hard to paint, even for experts. So no worries if you don’t do a perfect job. A flat finish “really does hide a lot of imperfections and irregularities,” Specker says. Why, thank you, paint.

Zap Those Microbes Away

Sad kitchen irony: The room you want to be the freest from dangerous microbes is naturally prone to them. From the mold danger zones around your sink, inside cabinets, and along the walls, to all the food-borne, sneeze-borne, and spill-borne opportunities for bacteria to get out of control, your kitchen can be a wee bit scary on the microscopic level.

Lucky for you, there are paints to help. Rust-Oleum makes a “mold and mildew-proof” paint for about $27 a gallon that can protect those mold danger zones. You can fight those nasty germs with Sherwin-Williams’ Paint Shield, which costs about $85 per gallon. Unlike other microbial paints, this formulation is EPA-certified to kill more than 99.9% of surface bacteria in less than two hours, including E. coli and staph.

Although not everyone needs an antimicrobial paint, if you’ve battled kitchen mold in the past, have an illness-prone family, or just really love knowing every surface is as safe as possible at all times, these products were made for you.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

Yes, Pets Can Find Their Way Home—but You Can Help them

When a dog named Hank navigated 11 miles home over two days to his foster owner in Memphis, TN, recently, it had many of us thinking, “Awww, isn’t that sweet,” and marveling anew at the navigational powers of pets. How do these animals—without maps, GPS monitors, or the ability to ask for directions—find their way home?

Hank is hardly a fluke, either. In 2013, a cat traversed 200 miles over two months to reach its old stomping grounds. Meanwhile, seabirds and tortoises travel entire hemispheres when they migrate to the same old nesting areas season after season. As for how they do it, it depends on the species.

Cats, for instance, rely on magnetic fields, orienting themselves along the Earth’s north-south poles much like a compass, according to scientists interviewed by Time magazine.

Meanwhile, dogs lean heavily on their sense of smell. Had Hank walked those 11 miles, he could have just followed his scent trail home, Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, told Time. Or, if a dog were taken by car, as Hank was, it might rely on overlapping circles of familiar scents.

Does that mean you need to make a Costco run for loads of air fresheners? Not so much. The pup might pick up a whiff of a dog it knows, which leads it to a well-known tree or trash can.

How to keep your pets safe at home

While the power of pets to return to their owners’ arms may be astonishing, scientists point out that we shouldn’t overestimate their abilities, either. Dogs like Hank make the news; hundreds more don’t because, well, they stay lost.

In other words, pet owners should continue doing what they can to keep their furry friends from wandering off. That means keeping your cats indoors, installing sturdy fences for dogs, and outfitting all animals with a collar and ID tag. Even high-tech pet microchips will run you only $25 to $50, and could be worth the peace of mind of knowing that these four-legged members of the family have a built-in ID. Because after all, even if Fido or Fluffy can find their way home, why not make it a little easier on them?

 | Nov 10, 2015

How to Remove Stains From Marble Counters and Floors

To celebrate our first night in our new home, we ordered a feast of Chinese food. The next morning, to our horror, we found a huge stain on our kitchen’s marble counter where the moo goo gai pan had seeped out of its cardboard container into the stone. We went into a frenzy to try to find out how to remove stains from marble.

I know I’m not alone here. Even though marble counters and floors look like they can withstand whatever a cook can throw at them, these surfaces in fact are extremely porous and can soak up liquids. If it’s just water, it usually dries without a problem. But if you leave wine or grease spills on marble, you’ll have to deal with a stain.

The good news is that whatever goes in can come out, says Mark Meriaux, accreditation and technical manager of MIA + BSI: The Natural Stone Institute, based in Oberlin, OH. “But sometimes it takes a long time.”

Classic Paleo Turkey Burgers (Healthy & Low Carb)

Cookouts just wouldn’t be the same without a good burger. But burgers shouldn’t be reserved only for summer picnics; they also make an easy go-to dinner during the week. Discover a healthier, leaner burger recipe with these filling and tasty turkey burgers.

Obviously within the Paleo diet, the main omission when it comes to burgers is the bready bun. But I want to show that Paleo burgers do not have to be boring pieces of meat covered in ketchup. There are plenty of flavorful options for Paleo burgers that will make you forget the bun.

Turkey burgers are a slightly healthier option for weeknight dinners. Turkey burgers have an advantage over beef burgers in that they are a little lower in calories and fat. Ground turkey breast is the leanest option. I recommend avoiding the flavored or pre-seasoned burgers that are sometimes at the store, which can be loaded with sodium. Making your own turkey burgers right at home is easy and quick.

This recipe is a great opportunity to pile on the veggies. Spinach, tomatoes, and onions all make great accompaniments to turkey burgers. Grilled onions or mushrooms can add a delicious layer of flavor. Serve avocado on the side for creaminess, or it’s really easy to stir together an aioli to top the burger. I made a garlic aioli with a little parsley mixed in.

My favorite aspect of turkey burgers is their quick cooking time. Dinner can be ready in twenty minutes. They can be thrown on the grill or cooked on a grill pan if you are cooking indoors (like me). Serve the burgers on a bed of greens and tomatoes, or wrapped in lettuce. Perhaps add a side of sweet potato fries for a complete and healthy meal.

Classic Paleo Turkey Burgers

  1. 1 lb. ground turkey
  2. 1 tsp onion powder
  3. 1 tsp paprika
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  6. 1/2 tsp coriander
  7. Pinch of cayenne
  8. 2 green onions, chopped
  9. 1 tomato, sliced
  10. 2 cups fresh spinach or arugula
  11. 1 avocado, sliced
  1. Add the ground turkey, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, coriander, cayenne, and green onions to a large bowl and stir to combine. Use your hands to form into burger patties.
  2. Heat the grill to medium-high heat and cook the burgers for 5-6 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Serve the burgers over sliced tomato, spinach, and avocado.
  1. Servings: 4-6 burgers
  2. Difficulty: Easy
By Rebecca Bohl (PaleoGrubs.com)

What Happens to the Mortgage When Your House Burns Down

If your house goes up in flames, does your obligation to pay your mortgage go with it?

Borrowers are bound by the promissory note they sign at the closing of a home purchase or refinance to make monthly mortgage payments. Even the total loss of the mortgaged property doesn’t relieve borrowers of this obligation. A mortgage also requires the borrower to give prompt notice to both the lender and the insurance carrier in the event of a loss.

“Lenders want to help, and they can be very flexible,” says Mike Zarro, executive vice president of mortgage operations at SunTrust Mortgage in Richmond, Va. “They have procedures and programs in place to help clients transition from a disaster back into normalcy.” Lenders may suspend mortgage installments or late payments for a limited period or even stop foreclosure activity altogether, particularly in areas subject to a federal disaster declaration. But, Mr. Zarro adds, “at the end of the day, the obligation to continue paying the mortgage still exists.”

A standard Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage form—also used for most jumbo loans, Mr. Zarro says—requires the borrower to repair or restore the property, if economically feasible, unless the lender and borrower otherwise agree in writing. That means that borrowers who walk away from their home in the event of a casualty or natural disaster run the risk of defaulting on their mortgage. But other options might be available, particularly for those with jumbo mortgages, since the loans are not subject to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines.

For borrowers who plan to rebuild, insurance proceeds are generally held in escrow by the lender or loan servicer and disbursed according to a schedule as construction progresses. Sometimes that leads to tension, either between the homeowner and the insurance company, which might dispute the extent of the loss, or between the homeowner and the mortgage lender over the disbursement schedule. An independent adjuster can help smooth things out with the insurance company, and an attorney might be able to help borrowers negotiate with the lender.

A standard homeowners-insurance policy will also cover the replacement of personal belongings as well as additional living expenses if it’s not possible to live in a house that has been extensively damaged, according to Jeanne M. Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade-industry group.

But jumbo borrowers, or those with substantial savings or low mortgage balances, may opt to pay off the mortgage directly.

“If the client does not want to rebuild or just wants to satisfy the mortgage, they can pay the mortgage in full, and we would release the insurance proceeds back to them,” Mr. Zarro says. “Or, some lenders may allow you to refinance by doing a home-equity loan on the land or what residual structure remains.”

Borrowers who live in developments with homeowners associations may also be required by the association to rebuild the house, as may some local governments.

 | Jan 11, 2017

What Not to Do as a New Homeowner

Avoid these easy-to-prevent mistakes that could cost you big time.

We know so well the thrill of owning your own house — but don’t let the excitement cause you to overlook the basics. We’ve gathered up a half dozen classic boo-boos new homeowners often commit — and give you some insight on why each is critically important to avoid.

1. Not Knowing Where the Main Water Shutoff Valve Is

Water from a burst or broken plumbing pipe can spew dozens of gallons into your home’s interior in a matter of minutes, soaking everything in sight — including drywall, flooring, and valuables. In fact, water damage is one of the most common of all household insurance claims.

Quick-twitch reaction is needed to stave off a major bummer. Before disaster hits, find your water shutoff valve, which will be located where a water main enters your house. Make sure everyone knows where it’s located and how to close the valve. A little penetrating oil on the valve stem makes sure it’ll work when you need it to.

2. Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole

Ah, spring! You’re so ready to dig into your new yard and plant bushes and build that fence. But don’t — not until you’ve dialed 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline will contact all your local utilities who will then come to your property — often within a day — to mark the location of underground pipes, cables, and wires.

This free service keeps you safe and helps avoid costly repairs. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you’ll also avoid fines.

3. Not Checking the Slope of Foundation Soil

The ground around your foundation should slope away from your house at least 6 inches over 10 feet. Why? To make sure that water from rain and melting snow doesn’t soak the soil around your foundation walls, building up pressure that can cause leaks and crack your foundation, leading to mega-expensive repairs.

This kind of water damage doesn’t happen overnight — it’s accumulative — so the sooner you get after it, the better (and smarter) you’ll be. While you’re at it, make sure downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house.

4. Not Knowing the Depth of Attic Insulation

This goes hand-in-hand with not knowing where your attic access is located, so let’s start there. Find the ceiling hatch, typically a square area framed with molding in a hallway or closet ceiling. Push the hatch cover straight up. Get a ladder and check out the depth of the insulation. If you can see the tops of joists, you definitely don’t have enough.

The recommended insulation for most attics is about R-38 or 10 to 14 inches deep, depending on the type of insulation you choose. BTW, is your hatch insulated, too? Use 4-inch-thick foam board glued to the top.

5. Carelessly Drilling into Walls

Hanging shelves, closet systems, and artwork means drilling into your walls — but do you know what’s back there? Hidden inside your walls are plumbing pipes, ductwork, wires, and cables.

You can check for some stuff with a stud sensor — a $25 battery-operated tool that detects changes in density to sniff out studs, cables, and ducts.

But stud sensors aren’t foolproof. Protect yourself by drilling only 1¼ inches deep max — enough to clear drywall and plaster but not deep enough to reach most wires and pipes.

Household wiring runs horizontally from outlet to outlet about 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, so that’s a no-drill zone. Stay clear of vertical locations above and below wall switches — wiring runs along studs to reach switches.

6. Cutting Down a Tree

The risk isn’t worth it. Even small trees can fall awkwardly, damaging your house, property, or your neighbor’s property. In some locales, you have to obtain a permit first. Cutting down a tree is an art that’s best left to a professional tree service.

Plus, trees help preserve property values and provide shade that cuts energy bills. So think twice before going all Paul Bunyan.

Article written by JOHN RIHA

7 Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Dog or Cat

Every home contains a variety of everyday items and substances that can be dangerous or even fatal if ingested by dogs and cats. You can protect your pet’s health by becoming aware of the most common health hazards found in many pet-owning households.

Many foods are perfectly safe for humans, but could be harmful or potentially deadly to pets. To be safe, keep the following food items out of your pet’s menu:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Fatty foods
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Avocado
  • Alcohol
  • Yeast dough
  • Grapes/raisins
  • Salt
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Any products containing xylitol (an artificial sweetener)

Always keep garbage out of a pet’s reach, as rotting food contains molds or bacteria that could cause food poisoning.

What to do if your pet is poisoned

Don’t wait! Time is critical for successfully treating accidental poisoning. Pick up the phone and call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435; a consultation fee may apply). Be prepared to provide your pet’s breed, age, weight and any symptoms. Keep the product container with you to assist in identification so the appropriate treatment recommendations can be made.

Master the Open Storage Trend with Tips that Mix Function and Style

Have you dedicated time to perfecting the decor of your home, but don’t know how to incorporate necessary storage areas? We have the solution for you! These tips will show you how to mix functionality, hospitality, and design seamlessly through the art of open storage. Learn how to keep necessary items in easily accessed areas, all while not disrupting the decorative flow of the room. Organization has finally been made stylish!

Tips for Successful Open Storage Solutions
The key to making organization and storage work for each room in your home is by considering it part of your decorating process. Don’t look at the containers as a nuisance to the flow of the room, but rather make it an integral part of the design! This will lead to interesting ideas for storage that are far from boring. It is important to make sure the items you are placing within these units make sense with the rest of the room; you wouldn’t keep blankets in the dining room! Also, don’t try to cram too much into one room. Retain open space by utilizing each room in your storage plan, and watch your rooms become enhanced.

Within Arm’s Reach:
Deciding between open storage and storing it away? If you use an item on a weekly basis, it’s perfect to be stored on an open shelf. If the item is used only sparingly, store it away in a cabinet or closet. Regular usage will help keep dust at bay, and will look functional rather than unkempt.

Consider It Part of Your Decor:
Create visual interest by mixing colors and patterns, materials and textures, and even varying heights and shapes. If your open storage look is not well designed, it’ll look like the inside of a cabinet—uninteresting. The key is to lead with function, but follow closely with design.

Make Sense of It:
Open storage works best when your shelving sticks to a common theme. Your dining area storage may contain glasses, wine, and other entertaining necessities, but these items could look out of place in the living room, just as blankets and books would look silly close to the dinner table. Stick to a theme, and keep it close to where it will be used.

Think Minimalist:
Don’t overdo it. Use open storage sparingly to keep it clean and modern rather than cluttered. Contain scattered items within a tray, and keep repetitive items (such as glasses or rolled blankets) within neat rows or stacks. Even though some items may look random, everything should be purposeful to remain pretty.

Enhance Your Hot Chocolate with Minty Marshmallows

Is there any food combination more delectable than chocolate and mint? The mixing of chocolate’s richness with the cool, fresh taste of mint is a match made in heaven, making it a popular pairing in candy, cakes, and ice cream, among other sweets.

And with this recipe for minty marshmallows, you can now can add your own touch of mint to wintertime’s most popular beverage, hot chocolate. You’ll be amazed at how satisfying it is when these marshmallows’ flavor melts into the chocolate flavor.

Note: The recipe below calls for peppermint and red food coloring, but these can be replaced with another mint flavor and color to suit your tastes.

Servings: 24 marshmallows


  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 (¼-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 15 drops red food coloring


  1. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray, and dust the bottom with about ½ cup confectioners’ sugar.
  2. Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and ½ cup of water in a bowl, and microwave on high for 12 minutes, stopping to stir halfway through.
  3. Combine the remaining water in a mixing bowl with the gelatin, let sit for 5 minutes, and gradually beat hot syrup mixture into the mixing bowl.
  4. Beat for 8 minutes on medium-low. Increase the speed to medium-high, and beat for an additional 10-12 minutes or until mixture is fluffy, shiny, and three times larger.
  5. Mix in the extract, and spread marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan.
  6. Add food coloring to the top of the marshmallow, and swirl with toothpick. Sift about 2 tablespoons of the confectioners’ sugar to cover the top.
  7. Let stand at room temperature overnight, or refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Cut marshmallows into bite-size squares, or use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes. Toss on the remaining confectioners’ sugar to coat.